Despite Chile’s reputation as one of the safest and most politically stable countries in South America, on Friday the 18th of October, protests erupted in various neighbourhoods across the capital city, Santiago, and have since spread to other cities across the country.
The protests began following a 4% hike in fares for Santiago’s metro service, with university students and high-school students calling on passengers to jump over the metro turnstiles to avoid paying the higher fees.
Since then, the protests have developed to encompass a movement to force the right-wing government, led by sitting president Sebastián Piñera, to improve living conditions. The context of the demonstrations is a society where rising living costs and low wages have resulted in high levels of inequality.
Since October, these demonstrations have escalated to violent protest, with metro stations and other buildings set alight. After President Piñera announced a State of Emergency, the military was deployed and over 20,000 soldiers are now on the streets of the capital and in other parts of the country.
On Friday 25th of October, an estimated 1.2 million people marched through Santiago in protest, a number that represents more than 5% of the country’s population. This was the largest demonstration of its kind since the country returned to democracy following the Pinochet dictatorship of the 70s and 80s.
Water cannons and tear gas have been used to disperse protesters and the current death toll stands at at least 20, with hundreds believed to have partially lost sight due to being shot by rubber bullets. Accusations of the use of extreme force and torture by the military and police are being investigated by the Instituto Nacional de Derechos Humanos (National Institute of Human Rights), while the UN is also sending a team to investigate these claims.
On Monday 28th of October, Piñera fired and replaced eight members of his cabinet in an attempt at quelling the protests. However, many protesters are instead calling for his resignation.
On Friday 19th of November, protesters secured a promise from the government that a plebiscite on writing a new constitution would be held in April 2020, with the body responsible for the new constitution being chosen in October of the same year and the document being put to a final vote in 2021.
However, protesters continue to demonstrate their anger towards the government and calls for President Piñera to stand down continue. Small protests in Santiago and across other parts of the country continue.
How will international visitors be affected by the protests in Chile?
While small protests are continuing – mainly focussed around Plaza Italia in Santiago – all tourist infrastructure in the city is back up and running as normal.
Arson and looting took place when the protests were in full swing, while road blocks were preventing buses and other transport from travelling in different parts of the country, however this is no longer the case.
In case of a new outbreak of protests, if you speak Spanish, Chilean news agency T13 has rolling coverage and updates on their website, as does BioBio Chile on their Twitter account. The Santiago Municipality’s Twitter account also has information about the status of tourist attractions in the capital, as do Disfruta Santiago.
Updates about the situation in Santiago:
- International and domestic flights are running as normal.
- The State of Emergency that was announced in October at the very beginning of the riots was lifted in November, as were the curfews.
- Airport transfer services including TransVip and Delfos are still operating as normal and can be booked online. However, roadblocks have disrupted transport to the airport. This is no longer happening, but if you are concerned, confirm by contacting your transfer service at least 24 hours in advance of your planned transfer to ensure that everything is working as necessary.
- Public transport, including the metro and services to and from the airport are operating regularly throughout the day. Most metro stations are back up and running and you can find a handy diagram of the functionality of the entire metro system here to see which remain closed.
- Bus stations in Santiago are opening are usual.
- Central and Downtown Santiago bore the brunt of the demonstrations. Demonstrations were (and now, smaller protests are) based around Plaza Italia (the southern edge of Barrio Bellavista). These take place every Friday, from around 4pm/5pm, so avoid this square and the streets around it.
- All of the tourist neighbourhoods are operating as normal.
- Banks, shops and supermarkets are operating as normal, although many of the international supermarkets have been damaged in the protests.
Recommendations on the ground from local tour operator Chile Nativo:
Travelling outside of Santiago
Bus services are running as usual.
Domestic flights are operating as usual.
In Valparaiso, protests are continuing in and around Plaza Anibal Pinto, where protests tend to take place on Fridays from around 5pm. The tourist destinations (Cerro Alegre and Cerro Bellavista) are operating as normal.
Both the US State Department and British Foreign Office recommend the exercising increased caution if you travel to Chile:
- Be aware of your surroundings to avoid walking unintentionally into the path of a protest.
- Do not actively seek out demonstrations. You could face arrest, detention or be banned from returning to the country if you are caught taking part in any sort of protest. The Guardian has published footage showing police firing at protesters, so getting involved in a demonstration is extremely dangerous.
- If you find yourself within the vicinity of a demonstration, find a safe place to shelter. This can take the form of a café or restaurant, supermarket or any other nearby building, or try and get away from the location of the protest as quickly as possible.
What does this mean for trips to Chile in the next few weeks and months?
Since the president agreed to a plebiscite on writing a new constitution a few weeks ago, the situation has calmed considerably, although protests are still occurring in Santiago.
If you have a trip booked for the next few months, it is highly unlikely that you will be affected by the current situation.
However, it is recommended you keep an eye on the situation and consult the relevant travel advisories as issued by your government.
- In the US, the State Department has a series of travel advisories in place. They also recommend you enrol in the US Government’s Smart Traveller Enrolment Program to ensure that you get alerts about the current situation
- In the UK, the Foreign Office has revised its travel advisories.
Further reading and information
This article isn’t intended to take a political stance on the situation, however, I am fully in support of any peaceful protesting by local people who deserve to live a dignified life, free of inequality and with full access to health care, education and a decent living wage.
If you are interested in learning more about the political context that predates the current protests, this English-language summary of the climate of governmental corruption and disproportionate use of sentencing for civilians and politicians matched with and a rise in living standards and inequality is an excellent place to start.
The New York Times have also written a balanced article examining how the Chilean neo-liberal economic system is failing its people.
Hashtags on Twitter that are being used by protesters and give a far broader view of what is happening (and what isn’t currently being reported in the media) include #ChileDespierta and #ChileNoEstaEnGuerra.